Monica Lewinsky Challenges Cyberbullying in TED Talk: It's Time to Take Back My Narrative

by Jessica Roy 11:45 AM PDT, March 20, 2015
Photo: Getty Images

Monica Lewinsky is back and speaking out about the incident that has defined her life.

In her new TED Talk, "The Price of Shame," Lewinsky recounts what it was like to become one of the first victims of cyberbullying. She's calling for an end to the kinds of online threats and harassment she faced 17 years ago, when the entire world knew her as the girl with the stained blue dress.

"At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss," said a now 41-year-old Lewinsky, speaking to an audience of nearly 1,400 people gathered in Vancouver, Canada. "At the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences."

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In 1998, the story broke that President Bill Clinton had had an affair with an intern. According to the New York Times, it was one of the first big headlines for a then-fledgling news website called Drudge Report.

"When the story broke, it broke online, it was one of the first times that the traditional news had been usurped by the Internet for a major news story," Lewinsky told the TED Talk audience. She said this brand of online humiliation has become a public commodity -- one with a "very personal price." And at the tender age of 22, it was a price she wasn't prepared to pay.

"I went from being a private figure to being a publicly humiliated one worldwide. There were mobs of virtual stone-throwers," she said. In a special on Nat Geo last year, Lewinsky said she was "a virgin to humiliation on that level."

However, Lewinsky also takes responsibility for what happened. "Now, I admit I made mistakes — especially wearing that beret," she joked. "But the attention and judgment that I received — not the story, but that I personally received — was unprecedented. I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo and, of course, 'that woman.' I was known by many, but actually known by few. I get it. It was easy to forget 'that woman' was dimensional and had a soul."

Since then, there have been no shortage of jokes and headlines at her expense. In Beyonce’s surprise 2013 album, she coined the phrase "Monica Lewinsky'd all on my gown," though as Lewinsky pointed out in a Vanity Fair interview last year, a more accurate verb choice might be "Bill Clinton'd all on my gown."

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Lewinsky said she hopes other people can learn from her experience -- specifically, that they can bounce back and move on from something as life-altering as what she went through.

"It was time to stop tip-toeing around my past. It was time to take back my narrative and let others know that you can survive it,” she says. "Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing: you can survive it. I know it's hard. It may not be painless, quick or easy, but you can insist on a different ending to your story."